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March 7 - May 2, 2005

Black and White on Screen


March 7 (Monday) 9 pm

Within Our Gates

Directed by Oscar Micheaux
US, 1920, b/w, 79 min.
With Evelyn Preer, Flo Clements, James D. Ruffin

Featuring an interracial cast, Within Our Gates follows a Southern black woman who, abandoned by her fiancé, travels to the North in search of funding for a black school in her home town, only to have her past come back to haunt her. The film explores racial tensions in the South through issues of miscegenation, rape, and, most controversially, lynching. Due to a particularly graphic lynching scene, Southern theatres would not book the film and it eventually disappeared for seventy years.

March 14 (Monday) 9 pm

Native Son

Directed by Pierre Chenal
US/Argentina, 1951, b/w, 91 min.
With Richard Wright, Gloria Madison, Jean Wallace

Richard Wright stars in the screen adaptation of his acclaimed novel as Bigger Thomas, a chauffeur who accidentally kills the daughter of the family he serves and is forced to go on the lam. Wright’s acting skills are limited (and stretched a bit far considering the vast age difference between the actor and his character), as are those of most of the B-movie cast. Yet this quintessentially American tale, filmed in Argentina on a shoestring budget, is an interesting curio in its frank confrontation of racial representation which prompted U.S. censors to cut over thirty minutes of footage from the film.

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March 21 (Monday) 9 pm
FREE SCREENING

Lost Boundaries

Directed by Alfred L. Werker
US, 1949, b/w, 99 min.
With Beatrice Pearson, Mel Ferrer, Richard Hylton

Mel Ferrer stars as a light-skinned African-American whose family has been passing as white for over twenty years in a provincial New Hampshire village. When the truth is revealed, their neighbors want them thrown out of town much to the dismay of the children who have grown up believing they are white. A fairly conventional melodrama, the film was somewhat daring for its time, although its impact is undermined by the casting of Mel Ferrer, a white actor, in the lead role (a common practice in many Hollywood films about “passing”).

April 4 (Monday) 9:15 pm

A Taste of Honey

Directed by Tony Richardson
UK, 1961, b/w, 100 min.
With Rita Tushingham, Dora Bryan, Robert Stephens

Part of the new wave of British filmmaking, Tony Richardson’s film follows Jo, a young, working-class woman (Tushingham), as she attempts to free herself from a domineering and promiscuous mother. In her search for alternative companionship and support, Jo moves in with a gay man and begins a sexual relationship with a black sailor. Through her ensuing experience, the film explores issues of homosexuality, race, class, family, and teenage pregnancy. Despite the multitude of social issues, the film is marked by the complexity of its characters, and Jo emerges as a paragon of truthfulness and individuality.

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April 11 (Monday) 9:30 pm

Toxi

Directed by Robert A. Stemmle
West Germany, 1952, b/w, 88 min.
With Elfie Fiegert, Paul Bildt, Johanna Hofer
German with English subtitles

A well-to-do Hamburg family finds a five-year-old girl abandoned at the door of its villa. Toxi is black, the daughter of a now-deceased German girl and an American G. I. who has returned to the States. Director Robert A. Stemmle effectively details then-current attitudes toward interracial relationships and multi-racial children, presenting German positions on race and racism with remarkable honesty and candor. Just as young Toxi has worked her way into the hearts of this German family, a resolution of sorts appears: her American father returns, hoping to take Toxi with him back to the States. The film premiered at the moment when the first generation of children created by liaisons between German women and American soldiers—many of whom were African American—began entering German schools, creating a public awareness of a unique situation.

April 18 (Monday) 9:30 pm
FREE SCREENING

Dutchman

Directed by Anthony Harvey
UK, 1966, b/w, 55 min.
With Al Freeman, Jr., Shirley Knight

Set entirely within the confines of a New York City subway car (although filmed in England), Dutchman stars Al Freeman, Jr. as Clay, a mild-mannered African-American man who catches the eye of Lula (Knight), a free-spirited white woman. As the ride progresses, so does the intensity of the banter which develops between the unlikely twosome, in which both racial and sexual taboos are challenged. Based on a play by LeRoi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka), the film follows a loose structure akin to many of the great American independent films of the 1960s.

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Director Melvin Van Peebles In Person
April 25 (Monday) 9 pm

The Story of a Three-Day Pass

Directed by Melvin Van Peebles
France, 1968, b/w, 87 min.
With Harry Baird, Nicole Berger, Hal Brav

 

Harry Baird stars as a “good Negro” American soldier who is given a three-day pass from his commanding officer while stationed in France. He heads to Paris where he meets a white French girl with whom he engages in a taboo liaison. A successful blending of the “passing” Hollywood melodramas of the 1950s and the more improvisational independent films of the 1960s which presented a more truthful representation of race, this freewheeling work from Van Peebles (Watermelon Man, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song) is one of his best.
This screening is presented with the W.E.B. DuBois Institue for African-American Studies

May 2 (Monday) 9 pm

Jungle Fever

Directed by Spike Lee
US, 1991, color, 132 min.
With Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra, Samuel L. Jackson

A married African-American architect (Snipes) has an affair with his Italian-American secretary (Sciorra), much to the chagrin of their respective families and friends. Spike Lee generated his usual share of controversy upon the film’s release for his bold questions of interracial sexual desire. Among the outstanding cast members, Jackson is particularly compelling as the architect’s crack-addicted brother.

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Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700